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July 08, 2024

Just a Fluke

By Lydia Manx

I mean, what else was I supposed to do? It wasn't like I planned for any of this to happen. Admittedly most of my world ended up off the books crazy. It had been said to me more than once that I attracted the nuttiness -- each time I had vigorously denied it as just a fluke. A fluke once or twice but after I started edging towards the double digits my protesting fell flat.

Shaking my head, I thought back to how all this had started just a few weeks ago. Never in a million years had I thought I'd be where I ended up now. It had all started out so innocently as a favor for a friend ...

"Miss Winters, please! I really need your help," Crystal Sierra pleaded with me.

"Crystal, call me Rachel. Calling me Miss Winters isn't needed, I'm not that formal." I tried to answer her softly as Crystal was pretty far from calm and in no way quiet. Her voice was bouncing off the walls of the coffee shop. We weren't surrounded by many people -- but nobody was these days. The pandemic was still raging and the rules flexed depending on where you worked and lived.

The coffee shop was opened for business but we grabbed our purchases to go. Mine was an Earl Grey tea and a cranberry-orange scone while Crystal had an elaborate off-menu drink with a long list of instructions and many suggestions that caused the young person manning the register to call for help in a frantic tone. After much discussion and an abacus -- okay, not really -- Crystal was given a rather large foaming cup of something hot. She sneered at the question of anything to eat as unwanted calories but from my off-the-cuff calculations her drink probably had enough calories to keep her easily fueled for a day or two.

She lapped at the decorative whipped cream topping her cup before cramming a plastic lid over the chocolate, hazelnut, coffee flavored concoction. Once her lid was snapped decisively on her cup, she tugged her mask back in place covering her face as we headed outside. I'd never removed my face covering -- my scone was tucked into my jacket pocket for later and we began to walk towards a bench in the park next to the coffee shop. A gust of wind passed whipping my hair over my face.

Quickly we arrived at the nearest bench available in a greenway by the shop, Crystal flopped down and immediately removed her mask so she could inhale her drink. I stood off to the side waiting for her to explain why she'd contacted me and why she frantically needed to meet with me. I didn't know her at all, but my friend, Carol Sullivan, had asked me to meet Crystal as a personal favor to her. Despite all of my musings I still wasn't sure why I had been called by Carol much less Crystal minutes later.

"Rachel, I screwed up big time. Carol sung your praises to me and told me you were smart about this kind of stuff. I really need your help." She finished her drink with a big slug and tossed her cup into the nearby trash can then began sobbing loudly. Her mask fell into her lap as she cried into her hands with gusto. Honestly her tears weren't visible, so I chalked her attitude up to theatrics prone to the twenty-somethings of today. My mask kept my slight smirk hidden and my sunglasses afforded me even more privacy. Given the public health restrictions about touching and social distances I was spared the role of a consoling confidant. I stood holding my cup in both hands -- enjoying the radiating warmth of my tea still waiting for Crystal's disclosure. I was growing irritated by Carol putting me into this awkward position.

A couple of power walkers strode past us noting Crystal's loud display and lack of a face covering. One of them sanctimoniously snarked, "Some people!" They were almost gone before Crystal's hissing reply, "Mind your own business, bitch." Neither acknowledged her or even slowed down.

Oh, joy -- she was starting to wear me out and I still had no idea why I'd even bothered to agree to the meeting, and didn't want to know what was Crystal's problem. Some of my unspoken feelings finally cut through her self-involved drama. So, with a loud sob she pulled her mask off her lap and back into place and looked up at me with barely damp eyes. Yeah, she'd faked her tears for sure. I pushed that back into my brain as an interesting tidbit to remember when dealing with Crystal.

Acting as if she hadn't just bitten the head off a perfect stranger she again said, "Rachel, I really need your help." That was all I had heard from her so far and my tea was getting cold. Not wishing to give her any details about my face, or a chance of her knowing how little I gave a damn about her dramatic proclamations and overwrought entitled attitude of the young, I simply arched an eyebrow without any words.

Somehow my continued silence finally broke through her self-involved musings. She pulled off her mask to answer me. Her uncovered features gave me a chance to witness a small micro-expression of anger at my response -- or lack of a noticeable one -- she pouted slightly before finally saying, "He stole all of my money."

"You were robbed? Did you contact the local police?" I was puzzled by what it was she thought I could do. I wasn't in any way associated with the local police.

Again, a flicker of anger rolled over her features. I stood off to the side of the bench -- yet to commit myself to much more time by sitting next to Crystal. I was about ready to leave -- Carol's request be damned -- when Crystal sullenly bit out, "No, I didn't."

Again, she left me hanging. I resisted the urge to prod her. She was looking up at me while flapping fake eyelashes in that stupid chick move, yep that sealed the deal for me.

"Ok, then call a cop. Bye now." I didn't stay but spun around and began to quickly walk away from the shocked woman -- mentally I counted and made it to nearly to three before I heard her squeal, "Wait!"

Reluctantly I turned back to her, "For what? There's nothing I can do if you were robbed."

"Come back. There's more." She was now honestly near tears; the raging emotions Crystal already demonstrated were far too exhausting. Thinking about Carol, I sighed -- she was a decent friend to me and rarely asked me to do anything for her. Hell, when I had to go out of town unexpectedly, she collected my mail and watered my plants -- it should be mentioned that I had a ton of plants -- nothing had died and she wouldn't take money for the help -- I'd been gone for a few weeks so it was appreciated. I slowly covered the distance I'd made and stood the required six feet from her waiting for her to speak.

"I cleaned out my bank account and maxed out a few of my credit cards," she spit out -- she looked furious by the admission. Why she was telling me about her finances, it didn't make any sense to me.

"So, how did this person rob you? Did you have the cash inside your house?" Reluctantly and somewhat curious I asked. I needed more words.

"No, I sent most of it to him online," she answered while tugging at a hunk of her hair.

"What? How's that robbing you?" I could see why she hadn't reported it to the police. Sending all her money to someone wasn't robbery, just possible utter stupidity. I impatiently tapped my finger against the side of my cup.

Anger lashed over her face before she thought how she'd reply. No microaggression on her face in the least, but balls to the walls anger. She'd be hell behind the wheel. Road rage was probably her go-to reaction to any perceived slight while in traffic or in person. (A bitch to deal with in California because traffic was 24/7 in major cities -- pandemic or not. The first few months there had been delightfully empty roads but all-to-soon everyone was able to rationalize their trips -- business or personal -- it didn't matter the roads rapidly filled back up to pre-pandemic numbers.)

Finally, she decided her answer. Her face was ugly as she spit out, "Ok, I'm being blackmailed. See, Rachel, I need your help, Carol said you are a wizard with computers and you totally know the internet."

After this was done Carol and I were having serious talk. Hell, I might have to move again. My privacy was something I cherished and it wasn't easy to maintain. It took years for me to feel safe. Carol's casual gossip had opened up a door I thought I'd locked. I pushed that into a box to be opened up later. Compartmentalizing was one of my gifts that aided me in my work -- and my world, to be honest.

Looking at the glint of something Crystal's eyes I knew there was a ton that she wasn't telling me. But I instinctively knew she wasn't going to willingly spill her secrets. Biting back a rather nasty pointed comment I cut to the chase, "How are you being blackmailed?"

"He's got some pictures," she gnawed at her lower lip that appeared to me to be much fuller than nature had provided. I concluded a recent Botox appointment had given her those fat ass lips that some women of all ages seemed to feel made them prettier. Shaking those negative nasty thoughts out of my head I waited for her to fill in all of the blanks. The silence didn't stretch too long, Crystal said, "He said he'd send these pictures with copies of our really intimate chats to everyone in my e-mail contacts list. My family, friends, OMG, my boss and coworkers! So, I sent him the $9,000 he wanted to some friend of his immediately -- a PayPal type deal. A week later he said he needed another 'offering'. He said I 'owed it' to him cause he was going to buy some Bitcoin. He gave me this heavy message about how I owed it for our future."

"Wait, back up. Is this some boyfriend of yours?" I was getting frustrated by the slow drip of information. I pulled my mask off my ear and took a deep gulp of my now lukewarm tea. The perfume aroma of the Earl Grey hit my nose before the delicious flavor reached my mouth, the plastic lid irritated me, but I wasn't ready to risk spilling tea on me. I looped my mask back in place and waited.

She shook her head vigorously, "No, not really. Oh, hell, Rachel, do I have to explain it?"

Her voice was whiny and louder than I preferred. It was on her if she wanted to share her business with the world. From the passing people on the paths near the bench, her voice was carrying further than she'd realized or as I thought about it -- she truly didn't care. Her world -- her rules. I still wasn't sure what it was that she was asking of me or what it was she wanted me to do. Using the various PayPal sort of apps were not bright money transactions. Anonymity was the biggest attraction for these types of apps. The idea was sending monies to another person through a third party keeping "buyers" and "sellers" protected. At least that was the positive spin put on the apps to attract users. Realistically the buyers and sellers were effectively "invisible" and problems could and did occur. Stuff sold could be substandard or not as promised -- the money was long gone and by the time the buyer reaches out to the seller to complain and there is no reply, just crickets -- radio silence -- basically buyer beware. I'd heard various horror stories of transactions and problems. I don't remember anything about blackmailers using the apps but it didn't come as a surprise.

She finally broke the silence and offered me slow explanations of her problem. "Ok, so this stupid shutdown made me have to work at home. Right?" She waited mistakenly thinking I was going to speak. After a full minute she sighed exasperated by me quite obviously, "So, my job isn't hard -- I used a computer program to do stuff at home. Kinda got easier at home. At first, I would play Solitaire or check out Instagram. Before too long, I clicked more hearts to approve all kinds of pictures of crap I don't give a damn about than a bored teenager."

I pulled my mask off long enough to finish my nearly cold tea. I wondered if I walked away would she even notice? Her focus was pretty inward and I sure as hell could care less about what she did when she should've been working. The whole business world was rapidly discovering how few people in their huge corporation actually did any real work during the average nine to five shift. With key stroke ghosting programs installed on many home business computers the managers and owners were quickly figuring out how little work had been done inside their expensively maintained offices. As the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months before much longer the pages kept flipping on the calendars and companies started getting the full picture.

All too soon the cost cutting measures began, staff was laid off and managers decided to close physical offices -- saving money. I focused back to hear Crystal say, "So, these people started messaging me how I had amazingly good taste. Some pages I liked were majorly popular of mega important people's Instagram pages. I began chatting with a couple really interesting people."

Somehow, she detected me rolling my eyes behind my sunglasses and she said, "Fine, guys. There was this one guy named Ryan Bennett, who was getting so so much more interesting. He liked all my Instagram posts and pictures -- asked me what I was doing. Ryan must've checked in on me six or seven times a day. At first, he asked me easy questions. What was I going? What did I eat? Send me a picture of your beautiful smile -- like right now. He didn't care if I had any makeup on or had brushed my hair. Stuff like that, I mean my friends all put up plenty of stuff all the time. It was so, I don't know, normal?"

Again, she paused waiting for me to give her some sort of affirmation or acknowledgement of her "normal" behavior with complete strangers. This time it was nearly two minutes before she resumed her blathering. She wasn't any kind of storyteller that's for sure.

With a deep sigh of obvious frustration by my lack of bestowing normalcy to her strange ass behavior she said, "So Ryan began, at first, by telling me how I should totally be a model and he had this awesome connection with some major online modeling agency. Over the next few weeks of daily chats, he started asking for poses he needed to build a professional online portfolio for me."

It was really hard for me to stay there and listen to Crystal's stupid justification for sending porn to imaginary friend. So far nothing she told me gave me any notion of a crime much less anything qualifying as robbery. Sheer stupidity -- plenty -- from what she told me. But I didn't have anywhere to be at the moment, so I waited for her to continue.

"Ryan kept talking about how his buddy thought I had the new look that was selling. And Ryan was so into me." Here her voice trailed off and her eyes shifted as she chanced a lie. I heard the words roll off her lips knowing instantly that they were untrue. "I believed him." No, she didn't.

Her lie fell between us and I assessed her. She had more truths buried. Her eyes flickered back and forth then she claimed, "He started telling me I was his one true love and the only one for him." She hadn't believed him, but something flickered in my thoughts -- I directly asked, "You spoke to him on the phone? You video chatted? What?"

Another lie slithered through those overly-plumped lips, "Of course."

A beat then I asked, "So what did he look like? Is he an older man? So does he speak with some accent? Southern? Educated?"

At each question she involuntarily jerked as if I'd physically slapped her -- my following silence rebuked her more than any verbal response would've.

Her eyes began to well up with a glitter of teardrops. Cynically I figured it was seasonal hay fever not genuine tears and she sobbed out, "Fine, we never had a chance to Zoom or even talk on the phone. I mean, like I was working at home and he was in a really busy office."

Automatically I snapped out with, "Where?"

Anger flushed across her now lightly red face -- not a single tear trailed down her cheeks -- nope, she wasn't crying just really good at appearing helpless. I bet the act played well in bars -- oops, those were all closed!

"I don't remember. He must have told me but I don't recall." Her voice bounced up and down as she tried to convince both me and herself. Speaking for myself -- she failed.

Shaking my head at her entire problem I decided she wasn't worth any more of my time. I'd have to owe Carol another favor. Maybe I could send her flowers or a plant or something. Crystal detected my total disconnection from her and said, "Rachel, I borrowed some money from Carol. I can't pay her back -- ever."

I gritted my teeth. Now this concerned me. Carol was a sweetheart, but she definitely wasn't rich. She was just a very giving woman.

"What do you mean you can't? Then why the hell did you ask Carol for money?" I turned to see that Crystal's loud conversation was attracting attention from people walking in the park. I hated getting noticed but Crystal seemed to revel in being the focus of all the strangers that her drama was garnering.

"She's my aunt, duh. Like you didn't know?" Crystal seemed to think that this was common knowledge.

"No, this is news to me. What did you tell her the money was for?" I snarled.

Again a lie flew off her lips -- "Um ah. I told her my student loans." She offered.

"Bzzz -- nope." I made a loud buzzer sound -- adding, "Wrong try again. Pandemic froze repayments. So nobody was bugging you about late payments." I tossed my cup in the trash can and began to turn away from her bullshit.

"Okay, okay. I told her that I was online gambling again."

This rang true -- she was just a peach. Poor Carol to be related to this piece of work. I didn't bother with a follow up question as to why Crystal didn't hit up her parents for money when it dawned on me she probably had.

"Damn -- how much did you send this creep?" I asked.

"Too much." She refused to name a number so I took it to be ugly. At nine thousand a week this dude had to be pretty rich now.

I knew banks didn't usually question deposits under ten thousand: still, from the sounds of how this man was getting his monies it was all being done electronically.

"So, at some point you ended up sending Ryan nasty pictures and naughty texts before he started demanding money from you?" I put it right out there cutting short her long drawn out rationalizations.

"Uh, yeah. He said he needed help making his bills before we started talking naughty. And I sent him a little bit because he wasn't going to be able to keep texting me. It wasn't like I just started sexting him right at first." I didn't bother to break in and ask when texting switched to sexting. I was still processing her claim that they never had actually spoken with each other. Just to be sure, as she seemed to lie so easily, I asked, "Okay, so you never video or Zoom called with him the entire time you communicated?"

"Uh -- no. but he kept telling me how important I was and how only I had ever made him feel so happy," she started to well up again.

"Sure. Whatever. So what pictures did he send you in return?" I ignored the fake waterworks. She patted the bench seat next to her while pulling her cell phone out of her purse.

"No. You have my number, send them to me." I could see she was rapidly clicking through her texts and gallery selectively forwarding pictures. I had no desire to get any closer to her than the edge of the bench -- pandemic or not. She sighed deeply, as if she was doing me a big favor, not the other way around. She kept her face down as my phone pinged the arrival of a dozen or so pictures. Thankfully I didn't see any full frontal or sexual pictures -- I wasn't interested in that crap in the least from her much or some unknown man she 'liked'.

I looked at them and asked the first thing that came to mind, "Where did he say he was from?"

I caught her rolling her eyes at me before she said, "Obvi -- like New York City, why?" She looked puzzled by my question.

"Because almost all of these pictures were taken in Europe." I said while I continued to analyze the shots and the man.

"Oh, those. They were from his vacation a few years ago. He went with some of his investment buddies," she looked at me with confusion etched on her face.

"Okay, Crystal, these all sort of look to be honeymoon pictures -- no sign of any buddies in the pictures -- and if you tap the third one you sent and expand the sunglasses on his face, you'll see a stunning red headed woman in the reflection of his glasses with a huge glittering diamond on her left hand ring finger." I waited for her to do as I'd suggested.

While she followed my directions and discovered what took me only a few minutes to find, I was busy running a minor facial recognition program. As she gasped and began screeching how he was a damn cheat and liar, I was busy running down the man. It took me -- on my cell phone mind you -- less than ten minutes to get a different picture of her alleged blackmailer.

I hit the first mark hard and fast, "The pictures you sent me aren't of Ryan Bennett."

Again, she loudly ran her mouth, completely oblivious to her surroundings. "The fucker gave me a fake name? Damn him, he's a sleezy rat bastard!" A woman who was just passing us with a toddler in a stroller hurried away from our bench muttering about lewd-mouthed people. I heard the little kid spout out a few of the choice swear words in the sing-song voice of a young child and mimicking Crystal pretty well. Shaking my head, I continued, while given her mouth I still didn't get her giving a damn what she said or who she sent slut shots to see her young stunning body.

Tapping my finger on the face of my cell phone I said, "No, this man is Paulo Sandoval from Italy. Those pictures are from a few years taken by his lovely wife, Maria Sandoval. They live in a small town in Northern Italy. The shots were taken during their honeymoon. He and she own and run a quaint restaurant. And from what I found next Maria is expecting their second child."

I kept flipping through screens of easily found information. Crystal was swearing like a teenager with a rather limited vocabulary. 'A fuck faced fucker' seemed to be her go to phrase. Finally, I put a palm up and said, "No, he did not blackmail you." With the pictures she had forwarded the comments about her contacts and monies the unknown man needed for their future. I was going to try to spell everything out for her that I'd already gathered. I continued, "Paulo Sandoval, the man pictured, had nothing to do with your problem. From what I found; he has nothing to do with the monies you sent electronically, nor does he have anything to do with computers. Those pictures are from Maria's social media. I couldn't find him on any other page except a review or two about their popular Italian restaurant. His face is in his wife's social media only."

The entire conversation was going over her head quite obviously. Trying to avoid using any of the swear words she'd liberally used I bit out, "Crystal, those pictures -- the images -- were used by whoever started flirting with you. That's why you never spoke to him or had any live chats -- real time convos -- with him. He's most definitely not the guy in those pictures."

Finally, it seemed that my words sunk in and she turned a rather alarming shade of green, "Who was I talking to then?"

"I dunno," I didn't.

She then turned sheet white.

"Oh my God! I sent some unknown creep pictures of me..." She now genuinely appeared upset. I quickly figured out that she'd downplayed how explicit those pictures had been -- the nine thousand a week started to make a bit of sense if he'd threatened to send them to her entire contact list.

Still somewhere between green and white she gasped out, "Rachel, I really need your help. He told me I had to have more money to him no later than midnight tomorrow or he'd launch the emails with those pictures and our chats. He promised it was the last time and it would save him and prove to him that I really loved and believed in him."

I looked at her stunned at her sheer stupidity.

"Back up here, Crystal. Do you actually believe this Ryan guy is real? Are you planning to meet him? Explain to me the pictures and information I just showed you?" I knew my mouth was gaping open unseen behind my mask. Thankfully my sunglasses kept her from seeing my stunned reaction to her bizarre sputtering.

She waved a hand at the cell phone in my hand dismissively while shoving hers back into her designer purse.

"I was wrong -- I don't need your help after all. Ryan really loves me and I was overreacting to everything." She swiftly got up from the bench.

I stood up after my fingers flew over my cell -- I cloned her cell phone with a modified program I had developed many year ago. Not knowing how much money Crystal had bilked her family out of gave me the justification I needed to satisfy my conscious. Legalities aside -- something was horrifically wrong about Crystal's quick denials. Carol deserved better, but it wasn't like we could pick our families -- I sure as hell hadn't picked mine.

Without making a huge production of Crystal's histrionics or lack of respect for her aunt -- I quickly departed, not acknowledging her request I didn't tell her aunt about Ryan. I sketched a hand over my shoulder and quickly left the park -- I noticed Crystal had immediately begun texting someone. She had pleaded desperately for my help -- as had Carol -- so I was going to give them what they'd asked for -- no matter how it all shook out. I sighed as I headed home, knowing I'd be forced to relocate once I did what needed to be done -- nothing new but I was sad -- I'd really liked this city. Being a good hitman really sucked. But at least there would be a hell of a payout once I tracked down Crystal's cyber boyfriend.

I spent the next week setting up a dummy account to hook Crystal's crook. Having successfully cloned her accounts and everything on her cell phone. I was able to discover where she'd picked up the fake lover, Ryan Bennett. To my relief, he wasn't in a room of scammers in Nigeria or playing from inside prison walls. He was actually located a few states over from us. I told Carol that she shouldn't give Crystal another dime, but immediately put her into a full locked down recovery program, as Crystal had said she had no intention of repaying anyone back. Carol was horrified and spoke to her brother talking him into getting Crystal into a program that same night -- without cell phone or any internet access. It was one of those hard ass places that took the kids out into the wilderness and had them eat bugs and sing kumbaya or some other rich kid crap. As it wasn't her first time screwing up, her dad was happy to clip the girl's wings -- thus stopping the dunning for more money via nasty blackmail.

Then I did what I do best -- take apart somebody's world.

You'd think that people scamming others on the internet would be more careful about blindly meeting strangers -- nope -- here's what went down.

After Carol confirmed for me that Crystal was on massive social/life media lockdown eating bugs out in the desert with other screwed up kids from wealthy backgrounds I knew Ryan Bennett would need to be out fishing for a new little naive fish.

My "new" Instagram account was public. I roughly mirrored photos in my account similar to the ones Crystal had posted and made sure to join the same accounts she'd had on her Instagram. Oh, I wasn't posting my own life pics but stuff I'd copied off others' galleries -- always checking metadata first for anything problematic. Saucy shots with shapes and parts at times not easily identifiable faces. Then I took time to randomly comment and 'heart' the same social media stars and wanna-be-stars she'd wasted clicks on a few months ago.

After seeing Crystal's debris field of mindless men hitting her up for private convos I was still taken back how my gal -- "Valerie_luvs_puppies" -- quickly grew popular with the trolls and various basement dwellers. It was about ten days of me ghosting needy strangers before I got my first nibble -- damned if Ryan wasn't consistent. His basic picture was the one I'd seen from Crystal's emails and after playing with the boy for nearly 24 hours he began bombarding me with messages about how I was so smart, pretty and had amazingly good taste. He privately messaged me a few more casual shots from the honeymoon. Not that he ever admitted he was married or not in fact that human. I was begged constantly to send him some pictures just for him. I had quite a few choice pictures of "Valerie" the woman I had snagged off the net with tones of selfies and wasn't in any way body shy.

As "Valerie" I played the coy stupid gal that seemed to appeal to Ryan. He asked me if I had any dreams. What was my favorite flower? Where in the world would I want to travel to once the pandemic was gone and why? Every single question was nearly identical in wording to the ones he'd asked Crystal. Scripted in the same length and when he bothered to answer me when I flipped the same questions back to him the answers, he gave us both, were verbatim the same. As days turned into nights the man calling himself Ryan picked up an obvious pattern. He had a set of high school -- hell, grade school -- girl type questions that he'd open with expecting me to spill my information readily to a random stranger. All of his questions were designed to elicit information and seem to exhibit caring.

After I finally gave in and seemingly reluctantly -- shyly if you will -- gave him a fabricated reply he would then start in on these flowery comments about my beauty, intelligence that he coupled with extreme declarations of his growing love for me and how I was the answer to all of his prayers. I seriously had sugar overload at how he found me stunning, kind, and loving.

I am pretty sure I threw up a little in my mouth more than once -- women bought this? I could tell by his delays in replies and flow of questions that he was a busy little swindler. At times I'd call him on the gaps asking him if I should go and let him handle whoever had his attention. Anytime I would drill down asking him what he was doing -- he would claim he was busy working on his very important investments for our future, the one I didn't recall ever even remotely promising him. Early on, he'd asked if I had children but never if I was married or involved with anyone. Naturally, he made a point to tell me how lonely he was and he had this elaborate backstory of having been dumped after asking a former lover to marry him. Then he tacked on how I was the first person to make him finally even hope he found his one and only. Mind you we'd only been messaging for less than three weeks at this point.

While Ryan was busy working and dodging my direct queries, I was fascinated by his constantly changing IP addresses when he used his Instagram account. The requests for some more loving and provocative pictures from me gave me the needed opening to ask for his fake email address. His address wasn't fake per se just a few months old and created at the local library a few states over. He asked we move our conversations to the chat option associated with his email. With great horror he told me that Instagram had been banned at work and since he hated not being able to check in on me all day long, we'd use that instead. It worked for me and I played along giving him Valerie's new email. I made a point of asking him advice on how to create an account and claimed ignorance about such exotic computer things. He lapped it up.

Using my new email address to his, I sent him a few tastier shots of Valerie in lingerie looking over her shoulder with big Bambi eyes -- lots of mascara and under liner giving the impression of naughty yet innocent -- two things happened. First, I'd imbedded a lovely bot into the picture. A little something I'd created that revealed information to the sender, me, whenever Ryan opened my email, clicked to enlarge the picture and it then opened up to me a host of delightful permissions for me to play on his system. Second, it allowed me to not only find and use his computer, but I was able to start my game.

The camera on his computer revealed quite a different fellow than the lovely shots Ryan Bennett sent of Paulo Sandoval. My diving through his computer was darkly fun in a creepy way. The man's name was actually Ryan Monroe. He had a long list of petty crimes in his name in many states. His age varied by fake names and identification I dug up, but he seemed to be in his late forties if not older. I don't think he even knew any longer. The camera showed me he was nearly bald, wasn't big on daily shaving, he drank heavily throughout the hours he spent on his computer and his eyes were bloodshot red with trace of brown as the color. Sadly, the computer was on a table in his bedroom. The camera revealed he was a busy man ... often he spoke on his phone to his bookies while typing in his fantasy life to the fish in his net. I wasn't overly shocked to see he used an actual notebook to write down information revealed by the numerous women he was conning. He used cut and paste to copy his various questions from a folder on his computer into chats online in Instagram and later email live chat programs. I quickly was pretty disgusted by Ryan.

Once I knew who and what I was dealing with I upped my game.

Armed with my newfound information along with his own camera available for my viewing displeasure I began my weaving. The 'new' live chat conversations were following his script in the beginning -- then I started deflecting his direct questions with my own series of interest. He asked me what I planned on doing over the weekend and I countered with looking for a job. He never asked me what I did in the near month we'd been dancing. Whenever I asked what he did for a living I had got back a tense reply of 'very important investments.'

I began pushing asking where he was working and he replied, 'I told you.' Nope. I knew he alluded to deep connections with big time investors that he wasn't legally allowed to reveal. He never said where he worked (nowhere from what I'd discovered), much less for whom. He was always vague about the 'other investors' or claimed he was just heading out to extremely 'important business meetings' or my favorite 'on my way to my attorneys to file legal papers.' The deeper he dug the hole the more I wanted him gone. Near as I could tell while watching him he had many 'loves' given he was quite busy texting and messaging other women at the same time as he was not answering me. Every now and then he'd make a mistake or 'misspeak' and when I pounced, he would grow angry and disappear.

Watching him drain his fourth or fifth beer of the hour I plotted his downfall. As the weeks approached the month mark, I heard from Carol that Crystal was doing so well in rehab there was talk of her earning back her phone and internet privileges and possibly getting to visit home. My time was running out to cut Ryan out of the equation. My opportunity arrived with an 'urgent' message from Ryan who'd been striking out right and left with his fishies. I was one of the few ones left and nobody had sent him any money since Crystal left. I found the urgent email was to meet him in chat.

Ryan: "I need help, Valerie."

Me/Valerie: "What's wrong?"

Ryan: "My phone's going to be shut off. One of my clients bounced a check and my finances are frozen. I need to keep in touch with you but can't unless you could send me a hundred dollars! It would be just until I can get this mess straightened out. I adore you and am falling deeply in love with you. You must help me."

He was using the exact ploy he'd used with Crystal. From there the asks continued as he wormed his way into her life with flattery and lies. Not having another month to waste I launched my plan.

Me/Valerie: "Ryan, I will have to send it to Western Union. Is there one you use?"

He sputtered some nonsense and tried to get me to use my bank or other arrangements but finally he caved and gave me the location on the other side of town from where I knew he lived. He gave me his real name claiming that a friend was going to pick it up for him. We agreed upon an approximate time and two days later because I claimed I had prior engagements I had to be at despite his alleged issues. Truthfully, I had to drive and get in place.

At this point I made my arrangements and asked Carol to take care of my plants. I quickly tore my life apart funded by Ryan's Cayman accounts that I emptied in the 48 hours prior to my self-assigned job. Ryan sent me and all the women he'd been swindling frantic requests for help. I'd also cleaned out his stateside banks as well as Bitcoin and other questionable money stashes. While traveling I watched him discover my talents at relocating money. The day I arrived in his town he'd talked a half dozen new ladies into wiring him monies to the same place I had been told. Sadly, my bullet caught him before he got to get a dollar. The silencer kept anyone from realizing at first what happened and gave me time to escape. I followed the chaos in the news for the weeks that followed. Boy, they didn't have a clue but had tons of leads to chase. He'd been a busy boy ... I was just smarter.

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2021-04-19
Image(s) © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
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